‘Sextortion’ on the rise as cybercriminals target women during lockdown

‘Sextortion’ on the rise as cybercriminals target women during lockdown

New Delhi: There has been a significant increase in cybercrime against women, especially ‘sextortion’, during the COVID-19-induced lockdown. Experts said ‘caged criminals’ are targeting these women online.

Official data
According to National Commission for Women (NCW) data, 54 cybercrime complaints were received online in April. This is a significant increase in the number of complaints received in March (37) and February (21). The panel is taking complaints online due to the lockdown.

Views of cyber experts
Cyber experts, however, said the numbers are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’. “We received 412 genuine complaints of cyber abuse from March 25 till April 25. Out of these, 396 complaints were serious ones from women. These ranged from abuse, indecent exposure, unsolicited obscene pictures, threats, malicious emails, blackmail ransom demand and more. We are looking into all the cybercrime complaints,” said the founder of the ‘Akancha Foundation’, Akancha Srivastava.

The organisation works for education and empowerment of people by imparting knowledge on cyber safety. Srivastava informed on an average she has been getting 20-25 such complaints daily. Before the lockdown the number was less than 10 per day. This is a ‘significant’ increase, she said.

“This is just the frustration and anger that is coming to the fore as there is no other release right now. This is a form of frustration as they (cyber criminals) are caged right now,” pointed out Srivastava.

“Men are morphing images and threatening women. Women are getting emails that your phone and laptop has been hacked. If you don’t deposit money my account I will make the morphed images public. This is one of the main threats women are getting,” Srivastava said.

Forms of ‘sextortion’
Vineet Kumar, founder and president of ‘Cyber Peace Foundation’ also had the same opinion. He said specially the cases of ‘sextortion’ have increased during the lockdown.

‘Sextortion’ is extorting money or sexual favours from someone by threatening to reveal evidence of their sexual activity. This is done through means like morphed images. “People are getting into relationships online as they are under lockdown and ‘sextortion’ cases are being reported to us,” Kumar said.

“Immediately after lockdown, we saw a rise in cases of misinformation, fake news and women getting duped online. There are malware links which gets all their information on phone. It also turns on the camera and microphone and captures their intimate moments. These are then used for blackmailing,” Kumar added.

Many women do not want to make official complaints in these cases, he said. “Whatever official figure that is being quoted is just the tip of the iceberg. Majority of women do not report cybercrime because they worry about the social stigma associated with it,” informed Kumar.

Personal details should not be shared
Vandana Verma, founder of ‘InfoSec Girls’ said cyber criminals have become innovative and craftier during lockdown.

They send specific phishing emails or themed emails for the current COVID-19 situation to people. They get their confidential details like address, phone numbers. These emails appear to have come from legitimate sources like the government in the form of advisories. However, they are not at all related to the government in any form,” Verma said.

Cyber crimes can be prevented through education on technology. “One has to know how to securely use the digital media. One should create a strong password. Spreading awareness on phishing emails, fake videos and securely sharing content can help a lot,” added Verma.

Creating awareness
NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma said often there is lack of awareness among women. They fail to reach out when something happens. “There is cyber police in every district who they can contact. They can reach out to us also if they need help,” she said.

There are more than 60 crore internet users in India and out of this about 29 crore are in rural areas.

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